Mountains of the Moon (1990)

Mountains of the Moon (1990), directed by Bob Rafelson.

The filmed on location epic of Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke in their expeditions to central Africa, searching for the source of the Nile river. (As Burton says: It's wrong to say we discovered the source of the Nile; Africans had already discovered it long before).

Exploration involves a lot of suffering: combat wounds, insects, disease. I don't know if it was intended, but the pastoral herdsman locals are often friendly, but the more advanced kingdoms are not. Civilization can be a negative indicator of hospitality.

It doesn't have traditional plot acts or dramatic beats. The two men are friends but often don't get along; this is worse back in England when factions take sides in their disputes. The film hints at attraction between them that they may not realize themselves.

A maverick Victorian, Burton (played by Patrick Bergin (Patriot Games (1992)) was one of the great adventurers of his age. Polyglot, prolific author, traveler to forbidden cities and translator of forbidden books.

Iain Glen has an early role as Speke, and Delroy Lindo is an escaped slave who we first meet when he is menaced by lions.

Fiona Shaw is Burton's love interest back in England, later his wife. If you've ever wanted to see Aunt Petunia from Harry Potter nude, this is your chance.

Director Rafelson began in quirky independent films like Head (1968), Five Easy Pieces (1970), The King of Marvin Gardens (1972) and Stay Hungry (1976). He went through a thriller phase -- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981) and Black Widow (1987) -- before finding his way to this historical epic.

Photographed by Roger Deakins (Barton Fink (1991), The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), Stormy Monday (1988)).

My thumbnails are from an early DVD of poor quality. As far as I know this is the only disc edition we have: a flipper with 4:3 cropped on one side and non-anamorphic widescreen on the other. No proper subtitles, but it has the old Closed Captions if you can deal with those.

We don't get many on-location historically-based adventures and I hope someday we could have a better home video edition.